PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Legislation that extends the state’s statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims, which passed through the House and Senate by a combined 107-1 vote earlier this summer, was ceremonially signed into law by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo on Monday.
The Senate version of the bill, introduced by District 15 (Pawtucket, North Providence) State Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush and the House bill, introduced by District 33 (South Kingstown, Narragansett) State Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, amends the state’s civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims by 28 years, from seven years to 35 years.
“Childhood sexual abuse is a scourge on our society, nationally and here in Rhode Island,” Nesselbush said. “Today, passage of this legislation significantly moves the needle forward for these brave victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.”
“Today, Rhode Island has opened the courthouse doors by significantly extending the statute of limitations,” Nesselbush added. “Access to justice is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, and today we have provided that for countless survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Bravo.”
McEntee added: “It is unfortunate that this bill is needed in our society because it signals that not only are our children being sexually victimized, but even more sadly, many of these victims will never have their day in court to face their abusers and demand accountability for the vicious childhood assaults that have haunted their lives – often times for decades. It is for this reason that we need to significantly extend the statute of limitations on civil actions relating to sexual abuse.”
The legislation would also extend to 35 years the statute of limitations for entities, individuals, or organizations which caused or contributed to childhood sexual abuse through negligent supervision, conduct, concealment, or other factors that enabled the abuse to occur. The 35-year statute begins at the age of 18 for the victims.
The bill also includes a seven-year discovery rule, which enables victims of sex abuse to file suit against perpetrators and non-perpetrators up to seven years from the time a victim discovered or remembered abuse had taken place, such as through therapy as an adult.
The State of Rhode Island and its municipalities are also included under this provision of the legislation. Nesselbush in June said the provision that specifies legal action against that the state and municipal entities was “huge,” specifically citing the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky and the molestation scandal involving former Michigan State University physician and USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.
McEntee introduced the bill in the House of Representatives due to her own personal family connection to childhood sexual abuse. Over the past two General Assembly sessions, McEntee accompanied her older sister, Ann Hagan Webb, to testify in favor of the legislation. McEntee has referred to the legislation as “Annie’s Bill,” due to her sister’s advocacy for the bill.
Webb recounted her own experiences being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family parish priest. Now a psychologist specializing in counseling adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Webb detailed how it often takes years, if not decades, for victims of childhood sexual assault to not only come to terms with their abuse, but also to come forward, to name their abuser, and seek justice for the crimes perpetrated against them.
Webb also explained that because of the complex and often long healing process in regards to these crimes, many abusers are not only never charged criminally, but they also are shielded by statutes of limitations from having to answer for their crimes in a civil manner.
“Victims of childhood sexual abuse deserve justice and by passing this legislation, these brave people who have the courage to confront their victimizers will have a chance at justice for the crimes committed against them as children,” McEntee and Nesselbush concluded on Monday.
The State Senate voted unanimously, 37-0, in favor of the legislation in June, while the House voted 70-1, as District 48 (Burrillville, North Smithfield) State Rep. Brian C. Newberry was the lone dissenting vote.